London: The Vatican has accused the Italian media of spreading 'false and damaging' reports to influence cardinals preparing to elect a new pope.
Since Pope Benedict announced his resignation on February 11, Italian newspapers have been full of rumours about conspiracies, secret reports and lobbies in the Vatican that pushed the pope to step down.
According to the Telegraph, a Vatican statement said that it is deplorable that, as time was drawing closer for the beginning of the conclave there has been a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.
The Italian reports have painted an 'unflattering picture' of the Vatican's central administration, known as the Curia, depicting it as being full of prelates more concerned with their careers than serving the Church or the pope, the report said.
Some Church officials, speaking privately, have said foreign cardinals coming to Rome to choose the next pope have been alarmed over reports of corruption and might be inclined to elect someone not connected with the Curia, which is predominantly Italian, it added.
According to the report, the Vatican statement said the Italian media reports were an attempt to influence the outcome of the conclave through negative public opinion, much like states and kings tried to influence papal elections centuries ago.
The pope has announced that he will step down on February 28, becoming the first pontiff to abdicate in some six centuries, the report added.
The 85-year-old Benedict said his failing health no longer enabled him to run the 1.2-billion-member Roman Catholic Church as he would like.
In a separate statement, Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the reports were trying to 'discredit the Church and its government' ahead of the conclave.
According to the report, Italy's Repubblica newspaper ran a series of unsourced stories about the alleged contents of a secret report, prepared for the pope by a commission of three cardinals, who investigated the so-called Vatileaks scandal last year.